We Need a Change!

Say what?

You want to know if we really do have a problem with government, or is all this chatter about it simply hyperbole? You really have to ask that question? Let me ask you, “What makes you think maybe we don’t?” What’s that?  “What makes me really think we do?”

Well, okay,  how about this for starters:

“On January 26, 2010, the Senate voted on a resolution to create an eighteen-member deficit-reduction task force with teeth, a fast-track procedure to bring a sweeping plan to solve the U.S.’s debt problem straight to the floor for an up-or-down vote. The resolution was coauthored by Democrat Kent Conrad of North Dakota and Republican Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, and had substantial bipartisan support including from Republican leaders like John McCain and Mitch McConnell.” Said McConnell:

“We must address the issue of entitlements spending now before it is too late. As I have said many times before, the Conrad-Gregg proposal, which would provide an expedited pathway for fixing these profound long-term challenges. . . .  deserves support from both sides of the aisle. . . . So I urge the administration once again, to support the Conrad Gregg proposal. This proposal is our best hope for addressing the out-of-control spending and debt levels that are threatening our nation’s fiscal future.

But on January 26, the Senate blocked the resolution. Among those who voted to . . .kill the resolution were Mitch McConnell and John McCain. . . . Never before have cosponsors of a major bill conspired to kill their own idea, in an almost Alice-in-Wonderland fashion. Why did they do so? Because President Barack Obama was for it, and its passage might gain him political credit.”

Still unconvinced? Fred Hiatt, the Opinion Editor of the Washing ton Post, wrote of McConnell’s change of position, “No single vote by any single senator could possible illustrate everything that is wrong with Washington today. No single vote could embody the full cynicism and cowardice of our political elite at its worst, or explain by itself why problems do not get solved. But here’s one that comes close.”

Now, I hope you see such antics, such political priority, in the chambers of government as a problem. Many of us do. The writers of the above quoted material, Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein, in their recent book, It’s Even Worse that It Looks (2012) certainly do. These authors are not lightweights when it comes to writing about government. Six years ago they wrote The Broken Branch, which sharply criticized the Congress for failing to live up to its responsibilities. Basing their writing on some four decades of Congress-watching, theirs was, then, a sympathetic perspective, they say, one that reflected appreciation of the inherent messiness of the legislative process within the constitutional system. But this current Book, focusing on the same players, seems less inclined to be as tolerant of their actions (or inactions, as the case may be).

Specifically the Authors point out there’s no denying the impact of broad changes in America’s wider political environment—most important the ideological polarization of the political parties—on how Congress goes about its work. They document the demise of regular order, as Congress bends rules to marginalize committees and deny the minority party in the House opportunities to offer amendments on the floor; the decline of genuine deliberation in the law-making process on such important matters as budgets and decisions to go to way; the manifestations of extreme partisanship; the culture of corruption (ya gotta love that one); the loss of institutional patriotism among members; and the weakening of the checks-and-balances system.

Now, would you like to reconsider my question, or at least my conclusion: We–average Americans– have– a– problem– with– government, a huge problem, and that problem is today’s p o l i t i c s! It is simply making—some would say has already made—government unworkable. That, for many, seems hard to deny.

Any more questions?

You do have?  And it’s . . . “Who are those ‘for many’ I refer to?” And may I ask you, Sir, “Where have you been keeping yourself the past decade, or two?”

The “many” I refer to is that increasing plurality of American voters who have declared, publically, that they are not disposed to associate themselves, for voting purposes, as either Republicans, Democrats or any third-party. I’m talking about the 38% to 40% of voters who are political Independents! Wouldn’t you, or at least couldn’t you, say that these non-aligned and/or only lightly aligned voters (leaners ) have a problem with either party? Yes, agreed, they may eventually vote for one or the other, depending upon several factors not least of which is their own ideological tendencies, but they must have at least some issues with these parties, not wanting to publically support them. You don’t think that scenario that Messrs Mann & Ornstein played out above could have something to do with their being politically independent? Well, I do. I see Independents as fed-up with politics that puts party above governing. I don’t see how else you could read the above example: No matter the needs of the country, if the opposing party might make political points from it, then we won’t let it happen. That’s shitty! It needs to be cleaned up; corrected.

My argument with the conclusions of Mann & Ornstein in their latest book is that they continue to believe (bless their boundless faith) that such change in political behavior sufficient to rebalance government can and will come from within the existing political duopoly; that the participants can and will correct themselves.  That leads me to think that they may also believe in the Tooth Fairy. It simply won’t happen that way. It can’t: Ideology won’t allow it to.

And, Sir, that is the base problem with ideological politics. Those ideologically motivated know and practice little moderation. We have seen this situation go from bad to worse. Under such an environment, it is impossible for any government, conservative or liberal, to effectively govern. Their political opposition won’t allow it, not because it might not be “good government”, or good for most of the people, but simply because they are politically opposed to it.

Change, or correction in the direction of government (which is mostly running in idle no matter which party is at the helm), is only going to come about from an external pressure on our politics. As this has seldom happened, and as the status quo certainly doesn’t want it to happen, “experts” such as Messrs. Mann and Ornstein who can’t seem to see beyond the status quo, don’t think it possible, but it is. While I agree it’s somewhat improbable, it is possible. How, and from what source or sources? From a plurality of voters who are fed-up with the status quo, even if today they have no practical alternative but to vote for it come election time.  What was that movie saying, “If you build it, they will come.” It’s not improbable that something along the lines needed is already in the process of being built: Political Independents. Independents are evidence of dissatisfaction with the results of ideological government; Independents are clearly agents for potential change, given an option.

I recommend a new book by journalist and former senior scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Linda Killian, titled The Swing Vote, the Untapped Power Of Independents (2012) as a good place to start looking at the building process I see underway. She dedicates her book “For all the Independents and Swing voters who love this country and want to make it better.” Okay, that’s the motivation, to make it better. In her Preface, Ms. Killian writes, “. . .  Americans today are faced with a dysfunctional and polarized political system, controlled by political and party elites and special interests, that seems incapable of dealing with the serious issues and choices facing this nation.” Her next sentence absolutely resonates with the title of my new Book, BOOM! A Revolting Situation: “The necessity for a revolt by the people is no less great than it was at our founding.” A couple of paragraphs on she summarizes the point here: “We have a choice of continuing to do things the way we have been doing them and expecting a different result—not likely—or making a fundamental change that will benefit all citizens, improve our democratic institutions, and ensure the future strength and prosperity of this nation.”

“Amen” to that sentiment.  While Ms. Killian convincingly documents the feelings, opinions and frustrations of Independents across the Country (and she includes political moderates as well) highlighting what is needed, her presentation stops somewhat short of suggesting just how the “fundamental change” is going to come about. If I may say so—perhaps somewhat immodestly—BOOM! leads you down that path, clearly and in some detail. You might want to take a look at it.

We need a change!

 

Thomas Richard Harry
July 2012

 

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